The Crew

Out of the ten crewmembers of 'The Jolly Roger', only five of them had managed to eject out of the plane before it crashed. Let me innumerate the fate of each of them:

• Bombardier Henry Walker made this statement after the war when he returned from captivity:

"We left formation near Antwerp and to my knowledge, four other men left the plane, beside myself. Lt. McClatchey was in the nose of the plane and I imagine the others were at or near their stations. McClatchey was killed by the shell, which crippled also the plane.
I did not see any other members of the crew, other than the navigator and the engineer, after the take-off. I know of no reason why the pilot and co-pilot did not bail out, as I heard them talking over the intercom, after the bail out order was given. I did not hear any mention of injuries to the rest of the crew. The engineer may have more information about conditions in the rest of the plane. He bailed out immediately after I did. His name is T/Sgt. Gallerini, and I understand he escaped back to England.
S/Sgt. Joe Schreppel, the tail gunner, was wounded in the plane, but bailed out safely, how and when I did not know. He died shortly after reaching the ground. This has been confirmed by Belgian friends."
(Missing Air Crew Report 387A)
Henry S. Walker was imprisoned at Stalag Luft III in Sagan/Zagan (Germany/Poland).
T/Sgt. Bruno Gallerani, the engineer-gunner, bailed out and touched the ground nearby the Zoerselhof castle at Zoersel (B). Some local pro-allied people handed him over to the Resistance. ‘Comète’, the escape line of this underground cell, was able to bring him back to his station at Great Ashfield via France, Spain and Gibraltar. It took less than one month to smuggle him there. website link. The fate of Bruno Gallerani was indeed a successful escape story. To protect the ‘Comète’, he was not sent back to the battlefields anymore for fear of divulging the escape line in case of being recaptured and interrogated.

T/Sgt. Bruno Gallerani

In the year 2013, some relatives of the pro-allied people from Zoersel found back Bruno’s life jacket. The so-called ‘mae west’ was still in good shape and we were able to return it back to Bruno Gallerani who’s still alive and well at the USA.

Bruno Gallerani's "Mae West"

Bruno Gallerani's "Mae West"

James Henry Brown, the ball turret gunner, was shot in the foot during the descent from the aircraft. Probably he landed at Zoersel. He was also caught that same day as a P.O.W and was imprisoned at Stalag Luft XVII B in Austria. He escaped once and was recaptured. He was liberated on the 3rd of May, 1945 by the 89th Infantry or The Patton 3rd.

James Brown.

Larry B. Stokes, the waist-gunner, struggled to land with his damaged parachute. He got severely hurt upon touching the ground, and was also taken as a prisoner to Stalag Luft XVII B. Due to his severe injuries, the International Red Cross repatriated him to the USA where he died shortly after the war.

Joe Schreppel, the unlucky tail gunner was already fatally wounded upon landing on the ground. The Germans transported his remains from Zoersel to Fortress III, which is located next to the airfield of Deurne-Antwerp. A few days later, on August the 20th, he was buried with military honors as 'UNBEKANNT' (Unknown). It was speculated that someone had removed his ID tag and other personal belongings to conceal from the Germans the classified information of the aerial attacks. After the WWII, the American War Graves Registration exhumed the remains of this 'Unbekannt' twice. As updated, the final resting place is situated at the Ardennes American Cemetery, grave A/31/35, with status 'Unknown X-113'. Joe's name, however, is engraved on the 'Tablets of the Missing' at the Henri-Chapelle Cemetery near Liège (Belgium).

And what happened to the five remaining crew who did not bail out? Why did they stay on board the 'The Jolly Roger? Did pilot Paul Sommers with his crippled aircraft try to land safely at the German Airfield at Woensdrecht? Did he lower the landing gear of his plane as a sign that he was conceding? Did the Germans fighters recognize this act? Surely, heart-breaking tragedies had taken place on board of this doomed plane.

An insensitive official report from the constabulary on duty at Hoogerheide (Woensdrecht) revealed these facts:

"On the 17th of August 1943, at about 11.30 A.M., I, sergeant major Peter Metsemakers, witnessed that a big four engine airplane crashed in Nieuwen Hinkeloord-polder at the municipality of Woensdrecht. A tremendous explosion followed and the wreckage got on fire. Me and some other constabularies went to the spot. Several Officers and many soldiers of the German Army sealed off the area, while we were looking for survivors and found none. However, near the crashed plane, three bodies of dead American military men were discovered. The plane had burned out completely and according to the German officer highest in rank, all occupants were killed. After receiving permission, the Mayor of Woensdrecht had ordered to put the three bodies in coffins and transported them to the mortuary at Hoogerheide."
(From: Marechaussee Gewest Eindhoven-Goep Hoogerheide-No411. Contributed by Luc Cox)

• 2nd. Lt. Paul Sommers, pilot, was buried at the American Military Cemetery at Margraten (Netherlands), grave B/20/16.

Hugh McClatchey.
• 2nd. Lt. Hugh McClatchey, the navigator, found his final resting place at the National Cemetery Farmingdale in New York.

• 1st. Lt. Herbert Brown, co-pilot, Missing in Action. His name is engraved on the 'Tablets of the Missing' at Margraten.

Olin Wieneke.
• T/Sgt. Olin Wieneke, radio-operator, also an MIA, enlisted at Margraten.

Olin Wieneke.

• S/Sgt. Parker Crabtree, waist-gunner, an MIA, name engraved on the 'Wall of the Missing' at the Henri-Chapelle Cemetery.


After their victory, the two German pilots were dashing at full speed over their airfield at Woensdrecht, waggling the wings of their planes to show triumph. Ground personnel were cheering as they witnessed the air battle at close hand. Hermichen proudly, stepped to the 'Gefechtstand' to claim the Honor. But after a while, he returned from the command post with a dejected face. His engineer had told him that due to a mechanical problem, his air guns and canons didn't shoot at all. Therefore he had to give the honor to his wingman Kiefner. (More German fighter pilots claimed the triumph over the crashed B-17 in Woensdrecht. The victory was finally credited to Oblt. Beese, 1./JG 26, who shot 'The Jolly Roger' out of formation.)

A few hours later, again another American bomber fleet (heading for Schweinfurt) was crossing the area. In this air-battle, Jörg Kiefner was victor no more. His fighter was downed by a Spitfire and went into a deadly spin. Miraculously, Jörg was able to jump out from his plane. He was downed three times more during the following war years, but had survived each catastrophe.

In the year 1999, Luc Cox invited Jörg Kiefner to Belgium and visited together the spot where Jörg's Focke Wulf had crashed. Some aluminum fragments were still found by them.


All of a sudden, this peaceful community had to face the tragedies of war causing great commotions among the inhabitants of this little town.

"The War Time Chronicles of Zoersel, 1940-1945", gives a detailed report of the happenings by the passing of the American armada:

August 17.
"At about 11:00 A.M., hundreds of Allied airplanes are flying over Zoersel. The Anti Aircraft Artillery starts firing, downing one plane. Five occupants are bailing out by parachute, and touching ground at Zoersel: two at 'Blommerschot', three at the property of baron Van de Put. Two of them have disappeared without leaving a trace. The other two at 'Blommerschot' are captured. The one who landed at 'Het Schriek' is fatally wounded by gunfire. Despite of his wounds, he is able to set a small fire to attract attention. After receiving the Last Sacraments by assistant pastor of St. Antonius-Brecht, he dies. In the afternoon he is transported to the mortuary of Zoersel on a farm cart. It is an American soldier named Joe Schreppel from Pittsburg.
August 18.
In the early morning, bouquets of flowers are displayed in front of the mortuary where the soldier is housed. By the time, the number of flowers is growing into a pile. At the square, a crowd of spectators is waiting for the coming events. Mrs. Daems is conducting the Holy Rosary for the repose of the soul of the deceased. Martha Goossens takes the opportunity to ask for a financial contribution to celebrate the Holy Mass. The yield is 243 francs. Burgomaster De Bouck is spreading the message that manifestations as such must be discouraged to avoid sanctions.
At 2 o'clock P.M., the Germans have taken the deceased airman with them.

Contribution by Luc Cox.

August 23.
Pastor Dox is celebrating the Holy Mass in dedication to the victims of the air assault.
August 27.
Two Germans in civilian clothes have arrested De Wageneire Joanna, resident of Zoersel, for showing sympathy towards the deceased American.
These same two German, have visited Maria Geudens spending more than an hour with her. This visit will bring nasty consequences for the community of Zoerzel.
August 30.
Six citizens have to appear before the Germans. Four of them remain in custody after being accused by the Sicherheitzpolizei (Security Police) for conducting pro-Allied activities.
September 12.
A novena is held at the chapel of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Einhoven praying for the safety of the arrested villagers. More than five hundred people have attended this mass rally.
September 23.
After 24 days of imprisonment, the reverend pastor has been released.
October 7.
The Gestapo visits Dr. De Wandelaer and Lien Cop. They are investigating about the air assault, and over who put the flowers adorning the mortuary. They have confiscated the camera and the pictures made from the flower homage. Dr. De Wandelaer has been apprehended the same day and is sentenced to two months of imprisonment.
December 12.
Mrs. Daems has been released from jail and has returned to Zoersel.
(From "ZOERSEL IN OORLOGSTIJD: 1940-1945" - Heemkundige Kring Zoersel. Contributed by Luc Cox)


After the liberation of Antwerp in September 1944, Michel joined immediately the Allied forces. As the war ended, he left the army due to boredom and the monotonous way of life in the barracks.

As my research over the misfortunes of the tail gunner Joe Schreppel began to progress, the need for further investigations has become a burdensome task. The quest for live witnesses seemed to be inevitable.

I had to find this certain man, Michel Bosman, the former scout. To my surprise, this long sought eyewitness is residing in Hove, just within walking distance from Lint where I live. I invited him for an interview at home.

What a memory he has, that war had indeed devastated young souls that even the finest detail remained intact.


Tom and Barbara Schreppel, like any other parents whose sons went to the battlefields, were anxiously waiting for any news from the battlefront.

Praying night after night for the safe return of Joe. On the news, Allied forces had suffered heavy casualties in ground and aerial battles. Great fear was what they felt upon hearing the bad news from Europe. Fear took its stand when they received the message that Joe was missing in action.

The world had fallen apart for these once happy and courageous parents. There is no graver pain than missing your own child in the worst circumstances. But life must go on for the Schreppel family. A son missing in action is not a son killed in action.

Optimism and a band of hope were still reigning in the Schreppel's home for two years. One day Joe would come home knocking by the doorstep...

Till they received this message from Belgium...

"I take the liberty of addressing this letter to you not knowing Joe Schreppel, a member of the crew of a U.S.A. Flying Fortress, have got the confirmation of his death which occurred on August 17, 1943. On that day, many air combats took place in the neighborhood of my village whose name is Zoersel (near Antwerp), Belgium. Unfortunately, several of the bombers were hit and shot down and many members of the crews bailed out. Some of them had their lives saved and were taken prisoners, others could escape but some died from their wounds. It was unfortunately the case with Mr. Schreppel.

We spoke to the doctor and the priest who assisted in his last moments and they agree in saying that Mr. Schreppel didn't express any will. I may add that the priest could speak English. It was the priest who gave us Mr. Schreppel's address. Shortly after receiving the Last Sacraments, Mr. Schreppel died and his body has taken away for burial by the Germans. Two days later, the Germans came to bury Mr. Schreppel together with another member of a crew of a Flying Fortress whose name we couldn't detect and the two bodies were put in a coffin, but not before the village had shown their sorrow and paid the last tribute to their beloved allies.

From early in the morning, many people of the village, amongst which myself, started making a great cross with flowers. That cross was put in front of the door where Mr. Schreppel's body was deposited pending regular burial.

I have wanted to write up as to the place where Mr. Schreppel had been buried but unfortunately I couldn't find it out. I have since been told officially that all American soldiers and flying men who fell in Belgium are being buried in a big cemetery near Liège, Belgium. Shortly before the Germans came in the village, I deposited a national flag of our U.S.A. Allies on top of the cross, but I had no time to have a photograph taken of it, which was a pity.

That demonstration gave, of course, gave rise to disturbances in the village and many people in the village were arrested amongst myself. For having put that flag on the cross, I was sentenced to four months of imprisonment. But what could it matter after we had been in a position to pay a last tribute to the son of one of our great allies. What we did were not great things, but we couldn't do more and we felt so happy to have done our duty in paying our last honor of gratitude to the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of the world.

May I beg you to hand over my letter to the next of kin and assure them of our sorrow in the irreparable loss they have sustained".

Joanna Sterckx-De Waegeneire


A postscript adds: "We had a great mass said in the Roman Catholic Church of the village in memory of Mr. Schreppel, which service was attended by nearly all the inhabitants, including the gentry. For that action our priest was sentenced to three weeks imprisonment".

(Contributed by Joseph 'Jody' Schreppel)